Heading Off to Balticon 49

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This Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, the family and I will be at Balticon, Maryland’s largest science fiction convention, and one of the bigger regional cons on the East Coast. We haven’t gone to a convention as a family in a couple of years, due to health concerns and other worries, so this is a bit of a milestone for us. Balticon has always been one of my kids’ favorites, due to their terrific kids’ programming.

Here’s the programming I’m scheduled for, in case you’ll be able to join us:

Saturday, May 23

11:00 AM Readings: Andrew Fox, Elektra Hammond, Larry Hodges (Chesapeake)

I’ll be reading a selection from Fat White Vampire Otaku.

Sunday, May 24

12:00 PM Putting a Pretty Face on Small Press (Parlor)
Scott E Pond (M), Andrew Fox, Gail Z. Martin, Alex Shvartsman, Patrick Thomas

Covers, often the bane of small press publishers. How do you put out a nice looking book without breaking the bank? What do you need to know when designing those covers and selecting cover art? What pitfalls should you watch out for that could mean the difference between looking pro and not.

2:00 PM Starting your own Small Press (Pimlico)
Dave Robison (M), Andrew Fox, Gary L Lester, Alex Shvartsman

Taxes, registration, a company name… there are so many things to consider before you even start. Learn some of the things you should be aware of before you take that plunge into the publishing mogul pool.

9:00 PM Mom and Dad Let Me Watch WHAT? (Chase)
Katie Bryski, Andrew Fox, Nate Nelson, THE JOHN VAUGHAN

Phasers a-blazing, starships exploding, steamy alien/elven love, and vicious clowns. Come out to discuss our earliest experiences with science fiction, fantasy, and horror–and they’ve shaped us as writers today.

11:00 AM SF/F Mysteries (Chase)
Sarah Pinsker (M), Andrew Fox, John L French

From Bester’s The Demolished Man to Jo Walton’s Farthing and Chris Moriarty’s Spin State. Robot detectives and vampire detectives and android detectives. Parlor mysteries and space station mysteries. The tools of the trade in the past (Sherlock Holmes’ very Victorian method of deduction) and the future (AI, bugs, drones).

At-the-door registration rates are:
Adult Child (6-12)
Full Weekend $65 $33
Friday $32 $16
Saturday $45 $23
Sunday $40 $20
Sunday/Monday $50 $25
Monday $17 $8

For more information, go to the Balticon homepage.

I hope to run into some of you there! It’s always a good show.

Arsenal of Democracy Flyover Celebrates V E Day’s 70th Anniversary

Formation of Boeing PT-17 Kadet trainers

Formation of Boeing PT-17 Kadet trainers

I was very fortunate to be close to the National Mall in Washington, DC just before noon today. Otherwise, I would’ve missed a once-in-a-lifetime sight. In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of V E Day, the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, the skies over Washington hosted the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover, a massed overflight of most of the still flight-worthy American warbirds of World War 2. (All photos were taken by my friend and coworker Tony Tortora, whose camera was vastly superior to mine.)

The weather on the National Mall was warm and humid, and thousands of people staked out either positions that gave them an unobstructed view of the skies around the Washington Monument or a place in the shade of a tree (I tried for a combination of both). The various formations of aircraft flew overhead in the order in which they were deployed during various campaigns during the conflict. The first aircraft to appear were the trainers, mostly biplanes (Boeing PT-17 Cadets are pictured above), in which the Army Air Force and Navy pilots learned their skills.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator medium bomber

Consolidated B-24 Liberator medium bomber

The Liberator medium bombers were the mainstay of early American bombing missions over Germany and other European targets. Their bifurcated tail assemblies make them very distinctive.

Vought F4U Corsair fighters

Vought F4U Corsair fighters

The F4U Corsair fighters flew off American carriers in the Pacific and were instrumental in late American victories over the Japanese Navy and Army, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa. They, along with the Grumman Hellcat fighters, gave American pilots decisive superiority over the Japanese Zeros and other fighters, and the Corsairs were superb ground attack aircraft, much appreciated by the Marines.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

The P-38 Lightning was one of the most distinctive and deadly aircraft of the war, known for its twin fuselages, high speed, and incredible maneuverability. A Lightning shot down the Japanese transport carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, and squadrons of Lightnings were instrumental in turning back the final German winter offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber

Flown from bases in England and Italy, the B-17 Flying Fortress was one of the iconic aircraft of the European war. More heavily armed than any earlier bomber, the Flying Fortresses’ bristling machine guns foiled the missions of many Luftwaffe Focke Wulf and Messerschmitt pilots. However, on their early missions, before they could be escorted all the way to their bombing assignments, even their massive defensive armament could not prevent up to 30% of all engaged aircraft from being shot down by German pursuit planes.

North American P-51 Mustang fighters

North American P-51 Mustang fighters

The P-51 Mustang was the primary escort of the B-17 Flying Fortresses in Europe. Prior to the advent of the Mustangs, American and British long-range bombers could only be escorted partway on their missions, which led to appalling losses of air crews and aircraft on numerous flights. The Mustang’s long range and superior flight characteristics allowed it to accompany the bombers all the way to Germany and back and to outmatch the capabilities of the German pursuit planes. So many Luftwaffe pilots were killed by Mustangs that from D-Day forward, the Allies generally had air superiority in the Western European theater.

Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber

Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber

The A-26 Invader was utilized as either a light bomber or a ground attack aircraft (its nose cone could either be utilized as a bombardier’s station or as a gun module mounting as many as eight .50 caliber machine guns, or a 20mm or 37mm auto cannon, or even in some cases a 75mm howitzer. It served in late campaigns in both Europe and the Pacific and was later deployed in the Korean War, the French Indochina War, and the Vietnam War, proving its versatility by adapting to many mission types.

The B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber, the follow-up to the B-17 Flying Fortress, is best known for being the aircraft that carried out the atomic bombings over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a very advanced aircraft for its time, featuring a pressurized cabin and an electronic fire control system which controlled four automated machine gun turrets. It served in the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force until the end of the 1950s. Only a single example, nicknamed Fifi, is still flight worthy. Accordingly, Fifi was one of the last airplanes to fly over the National Mall during the V E Day commemoration.

The final formation in the presentation was the Missing Man Formation, which featured a Grumman TBM Avenger, a Vought F4U Corsair, a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (the famous “Flying Tiger”), and a North American P-51 Mustang, saluting the more than 400,000 American airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who died in combat during World War 2. This year and last have seen an impressive array of anniversaries: the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812; the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War; the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One; and the 70th anniversary of the close of World War Two. This may be the last major anniversary of V E Day during which surviving veterans of the conflict will be present to witness. The vets are now in their late eighties or nineties. My cousin Joe Miller received the Bronze Star for heroism during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest in Germany, the longest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, which took place over a three month period between September and December, 1944. He never spoke about it; it was a military setback for the Allies which cost the lives of over 33,000 killed or incapacitated Americans. Joe has been gone for about seven years now. I miss him, and I am thankful for the service he gave as a young man. I was extremely privileged to have stood on the same ground yesterday with other men and women who sacrificed years of their youth and often their physical and mental health to save the world from Nazism and Japanese militarism.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber

Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber

What a Birthday Cake!

Andys Birthday Cake

Last month I hit a milestone birthday, the big “Five-Oh.” Dara threw me a marvelous party at the Amphora Restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia. Friends and family gathered around a long table and enjoyed Greek specialties. My sister Robyn came up from Tampa, my father flew in from San Diego, and my wonderful high school friends Maury and Larry drove down from Brooklyn. After a rough forty-ninth year, filled with health problems, it was good to close the curtain on that year and begin afresh, surrounded by loved ones.

The big surprise of the evening was the cake, an “anatomically correct” version of Veena, the green alien girl who seduced Captain Pike in the pilot Star Trek episode “The Cage,” later re-cut as the two-part episode, “The Menagerie.” The waiters thought the cake was hilarious and arranged my candles rather strategically. My son Levi nearly choked with laughter when they brought it out.

veena

Here’s the original Veena. I think our cake chef caught her likeness quite well, don’t you?

Surefire Indication of a Wave Election

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy

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I voted yesterday, then promptly “forgot” an election was going on. I didn’t bother to listen to the results last night and did not tune in to the radio or Internet on my ride into work. So I didn’t know who had won in Virginia, or if the Democrats had held the Senate, or if the Republicans had taken the Senate, or if they had, by how many seats.

Beneath my office suite, underground on the main retail level of my building, is a sundries and gift shop called Rainbow Gifts. As long as I have been eating lunch at a table next to their entrance, the “featured item” nearest the door has been a laminated Washington Post front page from November 5, 2008 with the giant headline, “Obama Makes History.” Taped to the laminated page is a hand-written note that says, “Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $8”

Out of curiosity, I took a peek first thing this morning before heading upstairs to my cubicle. The laminated front page is still hanging where it had always been hanging. It still has a hand-written note taped to it. Only the note now reads:

“Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $5”

That $3 discount represents a decrease of 37.5% — a very husky overnight reduction. Even the price of gas hasn’t been going down that fast.

I guess this means “Obama Makes History” in a different way: biggest losses to a sitting president’s party in a mid-term election???

Theodore Sturgeon’s Law for October 31, 2014

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Happy Halloween! Something about the day and the morning’s train ride to work got me thinking about Sturgeon’s Law, which can be paraphrased as, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.”

This is, quite possibly, the most famous quote to ever emerge from the universe of science fiction. So famous that not a day goes by without the quote appearing in a news article.

That notion got me curious. In what news articles would Sturgeon’s Law be quoted or referred to on Halloween, 2014?

Google makes life easy for those embarking on such absurd quests. I found a grand total of 26 news articles that fit my criteria. I selected a sample of four.

One, “Artists expected to toe the official line,” is about the travails of Irish artists who dare to criticize their local art scene. Another, “I like most films I watch. Am I a sucker?” is about a desire by a film critic to watch and enjoy bad films. The third, “Tuba instructor works hard to fight musical stereotypes,” is about a song a tuba instructor composed in order to fight prejudice against tuba players (really). And the fourth, “Tim Cook Makes Waves, Creates Ripple Effect,” is about the CEO of Apple coming out as gay. Richard Adhikari, the author of the last article, writes for TechNewsWorld, E-Commerce Times, and LinuxInsider.com and mentions Sturgeon’s Law in his byline self-description block, so Theodore Sturgeon is mentioned (indirectly and parenthetically) in every single article he writes.

This is a fun little game. If I get enough positive feedback, I may make this a recurring feature of FantasticalAndrewFox.com. What say you?

Will Be At Capclave on Sunday, 10/12/14

Capclave Dodo: "Where reading is not extinct"

Capclave Dodo: “Where reading is not extinct”

After this past year of personal tsuris, I’m easing myself back into convention appearances with a one-day stop at Capclave, the Washington Science Fiction Association’s annual convention, “where reading is not extinct.” I’m scheduled for only one event, a half-hour reading on Sunday at 4 PM, the tail-end of the convention. I’ll read an excerpt from Fat White Vampire Otaku. If you’re planning to be at Capclave, I’d sure appreciate your staying until the “bitter end” to hear me read; getting attendees for a reading is always a challenge (unless you’re the GOH, and even then it can be a challenge), and the challenge is quadrupled when your reading is the last bit of programming on the convention’s final day.

The primary accomplishment I’d like to walk away from Capclave with this year is reconnecting with friends whom I haven’t seen in a year, or making new friends. I’d especially enjoy connecting with a circle of friends in the Northern Virginia area, since Dara and I (I, especially) have found it a bit difficult to establish new social ties in the five years we’ve been up here.

Here’s the info on attending Capclave:

Location: Hilton Washington DC North/Gaithersburg,
620 Perry Parkway, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20877

Membership cost: $60 (a special rate of $25 is available for Active Military, dependents of Active Military, and students)

Guests of Honor:
Paolo Bacigalupi
Holly Black
Genevieve Valentine

“Capclave is a small relaxed literary convention with a program that usually focuses on the short fiction form. Our Guests of Honor and other notable authors, editors, artists, and fans of the short fiction form will explore the creation and enjoyment of short fantasy and science fiction genre stories.

“Past Capclaves have hosted discussions with authors and fans; readings by authors; a dealer’s room with books, magazines, artwork, crafts, and other science fiction and fantasy related items; exhibits by artists; space science presentations from NASA; a hospitality suite; room parties; interesting conversations with other fans and professionals; and a relaxed atmosphere for visiting old friends and meeting new friends.”

David Myers, I Will Miss You With All My Heart

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My morning began with a shock — one not wholly unexpected, but a shock, nonetheless. I learned from a message his sister-in-law Cynthia left on his blog, A Commonplace Blog, literary critic D. G. Myers (David to me) passed away from cancer this past Saturday, Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentance), at the age of sixty-two.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, David was a friend. A true friend. I can’t remember now how I stumbled upon his wonderful blog, so rich with essays about standout writers and books from the past hundred years. I think perhaps I was searching for articles on Philip Roth, a particular favorite of David’s, or on Saul Bellow’s novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which I intended to read. After reading David’s incisive, compelling essay, I found myself going back for more and more; his blog is a cornucopia of riches, some of the best book-related reading I have found on the Internet. I began leaving David messages on his blog, and when we struck up a personal correspondence, we discovered we shared a love of science fiction. David was primarily familiar with Philip K. Dick (see his essay on The Man in the High Castle here), but he was a self-described novice regarding the rest of the SF field, and he asked me for recommendations of new books coming out that he should review. I sent him several lists compiled from the Locus Online list of forthcoming books, which David really appreciated.

Our correspondence grew more personal, particularly on my side. He provided much sympathy and needed perspective when I suffered an estrangement from my mother and step-father two years ago. Then, when my oldest son became very ill, he was again a pillar of support. We exchanged many messages when he suffered the great disappointment of being let go (most unfairly, I think) from his post as literary critic for Commentary Magazine, a position he had cherished.

As his cancer, formerly in remission, returned and worsened, David’s essays grew more infrequent and more personal. The last essay he posted was perhaps the most poignant. I consider it a small masterpiece of wisdom regarding the approach of death. It is called “Choosing Life in the Face of Death.” It is an essay which I expect to refer back to regularly as I proceed along life’s down slope. Please take a few moments to read it; you will be very grateful that you did. In a media (the Internet) so choked with the ephemeral and inessential, this is a piece of thinking, feeling, and writing which deserves to last, and which will last.

David, may your memory be for a blessing. Knowing you and reading you has been a blessing for me.

More tributes to David can be found here. Also, Cynthia, David’s sister-in-law, has posted information on memorial funds which have been set up in David’s memory, as well as funds for his three children.

I’m Back

Dear readers of this blog,

In case any of you have been worried about me, due to my silence on this blog over the past couple of months, I’d like to reassure you that, although I recently went through a very rough time, I am now back at work and am gradually returning to my routine activities (such as moderating and updating this blog). Unfortunately, I still can’t provide a date as to when the paperback version of Fat White Vampire Otaku will be available or when my other completed novels will be out from MonstraCity Press, either in ebook or trade paperback form. Right now, taking care of our boys and their needs is a full-time job for Dara, and it is almost a second full-time job for me. I can’t predict when she will find herself with the spare time and spare energy to return to her role at MonstraCity Press. However, in the meantime, I will endeavor to update this blog reasonably regularly with fresh content. Thank you all for your patience and understanding and for your continuing support. It means the world to me.

Best wishes to all,
Andy Fox

Fat White Vampire Otaku Paperback Delayed

I need to apologize to those of you who have been waiting for Fat White Vampire Otaku to be released in trade paperback. That is still in the works, but Dara’s and my family situation has delayed it, likely until the fall. This summer, Dara, who handles all of MonstraCity Press’s editing and formatting tasks, has been completely occupied with taking care of our children and other important family matters. I anticipate that she will be able to return to her MonstraCity Press activities come the fall, when the children are back in school. Until then, I can only ask those of you who prefer traditional paperbacks over electronic books to continue to be patient. Thank you so much.

Post-War Lives of the Civil War Monitors

USS Catskill on coast defense duty, 1898

USS Catskill on coast defense duty, 1898

The US Navy built more than forty ironclad monitor warships during the Civil War (some of them weren’t completed until after the war was over). Some of these monitors had surprisingly long service lives, being pulled out of mothballs for harbor defense duty during the Spanish American War; some even lasted into the first decade of the twentieth century before being scrapped.

I’ve been doing research on the navies of 1862 for my third book in the August Micholson Chronicles, Fire on the Waters, and I came across these fascinating photographs of vessels of the US monitor fleet in their dotage. Some of these photos are so clear and sharp, you almost feel as if you are standing on a dock and staring across the water at an actual monitor.

USS Jason, ex-USS Sangamon, being fitted out at the New York Navy Yard, 1898

USS Jason, ex-USS Sangamon, being fitted out at the New York Navy Yard, 1898

It’s also fascinating to see how much additional superstructure got added to some of the monitors for their Spanish American War service, a complete repudiation of the builder of the first monitor, John Ericsson’s dictate that the decks of a monitor should be cleared for all-around fire. But the superstructure was necessary to make extended service on the vessels bearable for their crews, for temperatures rose to awful heights below decks, and the below-decks spaces were cramped and suffered from poor ventilation.

USS Onondaga in the French Navy

USS Onondaga in the French Navy

One of the river monitors, the double-turreted USS Onondaga was sold to France after the Civil War and, after crossing the Atlantic (a heroic feat for such a low-freeboard vessel as a monitor) served in the French Navy from 1867 until the early 1870s. She was then mothballed and was not scrapped until 1904.

USS Camanche, 1898

USS Camanche, 1898

All of the pieces of the USS Comanche were fabricated on the East Coast during the Civil War and were then shipped to the West Coast to be put together at the Mare Island Naval Station. Because of this unusual method of building, she was not completed until after the war, when she was placed in mothballs. Here she is off Mare Island during the Spanish American War, perhaps hoping for the war service she failed to see thirty-five years earlier.

Uss Lehigh and USS Montauk, 1902

Uss Lehigh and USS Montauk, 1902

After the Spanish American War, the monitors were quickly mothballed again. Here is a wonderful photo of the USS Lehigh and the USS Montauk at rest in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1902. The last survivor of the Civil War monitors was the USS Canonicus, veteran of the attack on Fort Fisher. She was towed from Florida to Hampton Roads, Virginia in mid-1907 to take part in the Jamestown Exposition as the last surviving Civil War ironclad. She was finally scrapped the following year.

USS Canonicus, 1907

USS Canonicus, 1907

Godzilla Review: Godzilla Becomes Gamera, or the Docile Dinosaur

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I had very high hopes for the new American Godzilla from Legendary Pictures. I loved their last giant monster movie, Pacific Rim, so I was hoping they could put a fresh spin on the saga of one of the most famous giant monsters of them all, Godzilla.

Unfortunately, the spin they decided to put on their Godzilla was to turn him into an earthbound Gamera, specifically the Gamera of Gamera, Guardian of the Universe. In that picture, pollution awakens three Gyaos giant carnivorous flying monsters, determined to wipe out humanity, who then have to be fought and defeated by Gamera, Earth’s and mankind’s protector. In the new Godzilla, radiation from a Japanese nuclear plant and from buried American nuclear waste awakens two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects), one of which flies (and which looks suspiciously like a Gyaos). One MUTO is male (the flying one) and the other is female, and they are determined to wipe out humanity by filling the Earth with their offspring. They must be fought and defeated by Godzilla, Earth’s and mankind’s protector.

Actually, Godzilla is amazingly benevolent towards mankind in this picture, considering that Dr. Serizowa (named after the Dr. Serizowa in the 1954 original version) reveals that all those American atom bomb and hydrogen bombs tests in the Pacific during the 1940s and 1950s were actually attempts to kill Godzilla. Yet we see scene after scene of modern U.S. Navy destroyers escorting Godzilla across the Pacific from Japan to San Francisco, close enough for the monster to swat with his tail or plink with one of his outsized claws, and he doesn’t lay a single reptilian scale on them. Once in San Francisco, he seems to take inordinate care to not knock over any buildings, or at least not any more than necessary while doing the rather ho-hum job of defeating the MUTOs (who look an awful lot like the giant praying mantises that Godzilla faced on Monster Island in Son of Godzilla). Dr. Serizowa (who does not invent an oxygen destroyer in this film, nor any other type of anti-Godzilla weapon) explains that Godzilla is Earth’s special resource to maintain the balance of nature. Cue the garlands of daisies…

The monster battles (what most of the audience showed up for) mostly lack pizzazz, and many of them are set at night, which tends to make the scenes murky and hard to follow (I had the same complaint about some of the jaeger-kaiju fights in Pacific Rim). However, I will give the screenwriters and the special effects technicians their props for figuring out two very satisfying ways for Godzilla to put the kibosh on his foes (not such a big spoiler, since you know there’ll be a sequel).

About two thirds of the film is taken up with a rather paint-by-the-numbers domestic plot involving a U.S. Army bomb demolitions expert, his nurse wife, and their young son. The actors are all appealing and earnest, but no new territory was paved here – just the standard family-in-peril scenario. Near the end of the film comes a moment so unbelievable that it stretches even the low level of verisimilitude to be found in a giant monster movie. The nuclear missile which the hero had been attempting to dismantle instead plods out of San Francisco Harbor on a fishing boat set on auto pilot. It couldn’t have made it more than a couple of miles outside the harbor when the one-megaton warhead explodes. No one dies. No massive wave engulfs what is left of San Francisco. Our hero, entirely exposed to the blast wave and radiation, suffers no ill effects.

Yes, I wanted very much to like it. Parts of it I did. And my sons thoroughly enjoyed it; my oldest said it was the best monster movie he had ever seen. I’ll have to show him the original King Kong again, or the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters. But I’m afraid the “old school” special effects pale in the eyes of the young generation in comparison with the latest computer-generated effects.

Fat White Vampire Otaku Now Out for Kindle!

Fat White - High Resolution - 100 Percent JPEG

It’s here — the long awaited third installment in the Fat White Vampire series of humorous horror novels! Jules Duchon and his vampiric family suffer through the ravages of Hurricane Antonia and struggle to survive in a New Orleans which is almost entirely depopulated. Where will they get their blood? Salvation comes from the most unlikely source possible — a trio of Japanese superheroes called Bonsai Master, Anime Girl, and Cutie-Scary Man. Yet that salvation comes with a terrifying but laugh-inducing price… the blood which the three superheroes donate has unpredictable effects on Jules and his family. Chaos ensues as Jules is transformed into a seven-foot-tall white rabbit, his wife Maureen puts on three hundred pounds, and his mother Edna becomes a vicious human/vampire vacuum cleaner!

Buy it for the Kindle on Amazon for $5.99!

Coming soon in trade paperback!

Comparing Kaiju Reboots: Godzilla vs. Gamera

Note: This is an article I originally published in July, 2013. I haven’t yet seen the new American Godzilla, so this isn’t a review of that. Rather, this is a look back at the most recent reboot of Godzilla, Japanese-style, and a comparison with the most recent reboot of one of Godzilla’s screen rivals, Gamera.

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With little-known director Gareth Edwards currently working on an American reboot of Godzilla, scheduled for release during the Big G’s sixtieth anniversary in 2014, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the last time movie-makers gave rebooting classic kaiju characters a shot. The most recent two efforts were Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and Gamera the Brave (2006). I recently had an opportunity to view the two films almost back to back, in order to best compare and contrast their differing approaches to renewing the appeal of long-lived kaiju stars.

Godzilla: Final Wars represented Toho Studio’s fiftieth anniversary celebration of their most famous creation. It was their 28th Godzilla film and the sixth in the Millennium series (the character’s earlier two series are known as the Showa series and the Heisei series). They clearly meant to “pull out all the stops” with this film, stuffing it full of monsters from earlier movies (many of which had not been seen on the big screen in twenty-five or thirty years), cameo appearances from veteran Godzilla actors, and many hat tips to plot elements from earlier films (the alien Xilians have a good bit in common with the aliens from Planet X in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). In many ways, it can be seen as a remake of Toho’s fondly remembered Destroy All Monsters (1968), which featured eleven of Toho’s kaiju stable.

One of the oddest elements of the film is how little of it is dedicated to its supposed star, Godzilla. In common with nearly all the films of the Heisei and Millennium series, Godzilla is portrayed with minimal personality, little more than a very bad-ass radioactive dinosaur with a great big chip on its shoulder. Thus, the screenwriters felt compelled to fill up the majority of the movie with plot elements centering on the human (or mutant) characters. The first half of the movie comes off as a Japanese version of the X-Men film series. It focuses almost entirely on two rival mutant soldiers in the Earth Defense Force’s M-Unit. The two mutants, Shinichi and Katsunori, are both friends and rivals, and they vie for the affections of a molecular biologist, Miyuki, who is recruited by the United Nations to study a mummified space monster (which turns out to be Gigan). Another standout character is Douglas Gordon (portrayed by American mixed martial artist and professional wrestler Don Frye), the captain of the EDF’s attack submarine, the Gotengo (itself a retread of the submarine from 1963’s Atragon). The Gotengo, with Gordon aboard as a young cadet, had trapped Godzilla in Antarctic ice forty years prior to the future in which Final Wars is set. In a weird costuming choice (which somehow works for me), Gordon, who is presumably an American working for the United Nations, dresses like a World War Two-era Russian commissar.

No one can complain that they skimped on the monsters!

The biggest draw of the film is the huge number of giant monsters from earlier Godzilla movies which it drew out of retirement. Final Wars tops Destroy All Monsters’ tally by featuring fourteen kaiju (or twenty-one, if you include seven kaiju who make brief appearances via stock footage). The all-star line-up includes Godzilla (last seen in 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Manda (most recently seen in Destroy All Monsters back in 1968), Minilla (this version of the Son of Godzilla hadn’t been on screen since 1969’s Godzilla’s Revenge), Rodan (as Radon, he’d last appeared in 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2), Anguirus (most recently seen in 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla), King Caesar (his only prior appearance was in the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla), Mothra (most recently seen in 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Monster X/Keizer Ghidorah (Ghidorah, a Toho staple, had last appeared in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack in 2001), Gigan (not seen since 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan), Hedorah (his only star turn had come in 1971’s Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), Ebirah (last seen, in stock footage taken from 1967’s Gozilla vs. the Sea Monster, in Godzilla’s Revenge in 1969), Zilla (the American Godzilla, whose only appearance came in 1998’s Godzilla), Kumonga and Kamacuras (both previously seen in Godzilla’s Revenge). Other classic kaiju also make brief appearances via stock footage, including Varan (last seen in Destroy All Monsters after starring in Varan the Unbelievable in 1958), Baragon (most recently seen in 2001 in Giant Monsters All-Out Attack), Gezora (Space Amoeba, 1970), Gaira (The War of the Gargantuas, 1966), Mechagodzilla (most recently seen in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. in 2003), Megaguirus (Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, 2000), and Titanosaurus (Terror of Mechagodzilla, 1975).

What do you get when you cross a kaiju with a Swiss Army Knife?

Unfortunately, having to divide screen time between so many monsters leaves precious little time for any individual monster to shine, especially given that much of the first half of the movie is given over to interactions between the human, mutant, and space alien characters. For example, I would’ve loved to see more of a rematch between Hedorah, the Smog Monster, and Godzilla, but their battle takes up less than ten seconds on screen, Godzilla batting him aside as though he were a tomato can. (By way of contrast, in their first encounter, back in 1971’s Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, retroactively written out of existence in the Millennium series, the Big G took an entire movie to figure out how to put Hedorah down for the count; the Smog Monster was one of those horrors who got “killed” multiple times but kept rising from apparent defeat.)

Part of the conceit of the films of the Millennium series is that none of them follow the earlier movies in the series; the only precursor each film has is the original 1954 Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Thus, each Millennium movie represents a reboot of almost everything that came before it. However, over his then fifty-year history in films, Godzilla had enjoyed long, even complex relationships with a number of other kaiju. Ghidorah was the George Foreman to Godzilla’s Mohammed Ali, having fought Godzilla nearly ten times before. Godzilla also boasted some allies of long-standing. Rodan had assisted him in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Destroy All Monsters before battling him (as Radon or Fire Rodan) in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2. Anguiras started out as a foe in the very first Godzilla sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, and then became one of Godzilla’s most indefatigable allies in Destroy All Monsters and the original Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Godzilla’s most interesting long-term relationship could be said to be the one he shared with Mothra. They had started off as antagonists (in 1964’s Godzilla vs. Mothra), gone on to be allies in multiple adventures (in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, and Destroy All Monsters), become enemies again (in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack), and finally allies once more (in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. and Godzilla: Final Wars. Yet because of the set-up of Final Wars and all the earlier films in the Millennium series, the screenwriters had to pretend that the clashes in Final Wars (all the other monsters, with the exceptions of Manda and Mothra, were under the mental control of the Xilians) represented the very first time that Godzilla was encountering his fellow kaiju.

I think this represented a major lost opportunity for the makers of Final Wars. For me, at least, a good bit of the attraction and charm of the later films in the original Showa series, from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster through Terror of Mechagodzilla, comes from the interactions between Godzilla and his fellow monsters. In the Showa series, the last film in which Godzilla is a pure heavy is Godzilla vs. Mothra; beyond that film, Godzilla generally serves as a protector of Japan or at least a somewhat benevolent force, allied to an extent with the human heroes. Although his antics could sometimes be silly (such as his flying stunts in Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and Godzilla vs. Gigan), they could just as often be wry and charming. Ever since Godzilla 1985, though, the first film in the Heisei series, filmmakers have been loathe to incorporate any of those elements of Godzilla’s earlier personality. In each of the subsequent movies (with the notable exception of Godzilla’s “origin story,” Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, when the proto-Godzilla shows empathy for a group of trapped Japanese soldiers in World War Two), the Big G is portrayed as an angry dinosaur of very little brain, a virtually mindless engine of destruction (and thus a reflection of his persona in his very first appearance on the big screen).

Ten years after Toho relaunched their Godzilla character with Godzilla 1985, the first film of the Heisei series, rival studio Daiei relaunched their own popular kaiju star, Gamera, in his own Heisei series with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). (Gamera, of course, had been a late response to Godzilla’s success of the 1950s and 1960s, first appearing in 1965, after Godzilla had already starred in five films.) Two more Gamera films followed. Then, in 2006, filmmakers decided to reboot Gamera’s continuity yet again in Gamera the Brave. This film begins with the original Gamera sacrificing himself in 1973 to destroy several Gyaos monsters to save Earth. Thirty-three years later, a young boy discovers a glowing egg on an island, which hatches into a seemingly normal tortoise, but one which is actually the son of Gamera.

A Boy and His Turtle 1

The little tortoise soon alerts his owner, young Toru, that he is no ordinary turtle by levitating in the air. Soon thereafter, he begins a tremendous growth spurt, and the two friends are separated after the flying turtle, named Toto, outgrows Toru’s bedroom and Toru tries to find an outdoor home for his unusual pet. Later, Toru and Toto are reunited when a new, aggressive kaiju, Zedus, attacks Toru’s city. Toto’s initial effort to battle Zedus is unsuccessful, but Toru and the newly gigantic Toto team up to ultimately defeat the rampaging Zedus, and Toto takes up the full power set and mantle of his parent, Gamera.

A Boy and His Turtle 2

I’ll admit that Gamera the Brave ended up being a much more impressive and satisfying movie than I’d expected it to be. In large part, this is due to the strong performances given by the movie’s child actors (in stark contrast to the insufferable, grating, oftentimes almost unwatchable performances of child actors in the movies of the original Showa series; maybe it was the poor quality dubbing that made those performances seem so awful, but I can’t imagine the performances come off much better in the original Japanese). In comparing Gamera the Brave to Godzilla: Final Wars, I think the former film does a better job of encapsulating, modernizing, and strengthening the key element that gave the Showa films their appeal. The Gamera reboot tells the story of a powerful friendship between a child and a giant monster; beyond the original Gamera the Invincible (1965), all of the Showa series movies centered around Gamera’s efforts to befriend and protect the children of Japan. In contrast, Godzilla: Final Wars, while reintroducing a small army of Godzilla’s former allies and foes, ignores the relationships between the kaiju that provided so much of the appeal of the latter Showa series Godzilla films.

Unfortunately, Frank Darabont, screenwriter for the upcoming American Godzilla reboot, sounds determined to continue in the footsteps of his predecessor screenwriters of the Heisei and Millennium series Godzilla films, explaining in an interview that he wants his Godzilla to be perceived as a terrifying force of nature. He dismisses the later films of the Showa series:

“And then he became Clifford the Big Red Dog in the subsequent films. He became the mascot of Japan, he became the protector of Japan. Another big ugly monster would show up and he would fight that monster to protect Japan. Which I never really quite understood, the shift. What we’re trying to do with the new movie is not have it camp, not have it be campy. We’re kind of taking a cool new look at it.”

So Darabont seems to believe that the most recent Godzilla movie that Toho released was 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla. He acts as though the Heisei and Millennium films never existed, because what he describes is exactly how the makers of those films reconceptualized Godzilla, returning him to his original persona.

I don’t think this bodes well for an ongoing series of American Godzilla pictures. The last several Millennium series movies were disappointments at the box office (which is why Toho has taken a ten-year break from making any new Godzilla movies and has now licensed that responsibility to Legendary Pictures). It’s hard to sustain a series focused on a brainless “terrifying force of nature.”

At long last, the Big G gets his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

But even if the newest Godzilla does a colossal belly flop in the theaters in 2014, at least the Big G can rest easy that he has his official star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, a gift from Hollywood on his fiftieth birthday…

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Too Much of a Bad Thing

The_Amazing_Spiderman_2_poster

I will admit right now that I did not see the first film in the Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, nor did I pay much attention to its reviews. Oh, I picked up that Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker tended toward the “emo” side even more than Toby Maguire had. But that was about all I had going into this new motion picture this past weekend with my kids. We had all enjoyed the first two big-budget Spider-Man films with Toby Maguire, and I was expecting a movie with much the same tone – lots of humor, some romance, a little bit of horror with the villains, and some great special effects and fight choreography.

The movie started off well enough. Spider-Man foils a theft of plutonium and is just as wise-cracking in the process as he generally is in the comics. The very end of the film also had the same tone, when Spider-Man ended up battling the same character (who is played for laughs) in a very different villainous guise. But the in-between parts? Dark, dark, dark.

The movie features two main villains and one “minor” villain at the end. Honestly, this was two villains too many. And the tone of the villains seemed way off for a Spider-Man film. Batman’s villains are walking horrors (the Joker, Clayface, Two-Face, the Scarecrow, etc.). Spider-Man’s villains, on the other hand, are supposed to verge on the near-goofy, at least in their original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko and Stan Lee/John Romita, Sr. portrayals.

Think of the original portrayals of such villains as the Beetle, the Sandman, the Rhino (I’ll never forget the look on his face the first time Spider-Man was able to dissolve his super-costume off of him), and, yes, even Electro (don’t tell me that “electro-shock” yellow hood he originally wore wasn’t somewhat comical). Dr. Octopus wasn’t particularly dark, being more of a forever downtrodden megalomaniac. The darkest members of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery was the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborne, and the second Green Goblin, his son, Harry Osborne. But the rest of them were often portrayed for laughs, as the butts of Spider-Man’s quips, even when they teamed up against him in groups such as the Sinister Six.

But in this film, both Electro and the Green Goblin were portrayed like villains straight out of The Dark Knight series. The origin stories (in the film) of Electro and the Green Goblin are both horrific. My kids were covering their ears and closing their eyes. I nearly did the same. When did superhero films become so darn intense? Much of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 felt like a combination of one of the Fast and Furious movies with plentiful helpings of The Evil Dead mixed in. By the end of the first third of this very long movie (two hours and twenty-two minutes), I was regretting my choice to bring my kids (who had loved PG-13 superhero or action movies such as The Avengers and Pacific Rim). They said afterward that they had liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but their reactions during the picture belied that.

Another big failing of this movie was that there is simply too much going on. In their attempts to tie everything together (all revolving around Oscorp), the screen writers throw in:

(a) the deaths of Peter Parker’s parents when Peter was a child (his father was a geneticist working for Oscorp);

(b) the death of Norman Osborne (who in this remake/reboot never becomes the Green Goblin, although his genetic disease causes him to grow goblin-like talons before he dies);

(c) the introduction of a battle suit which Norman had invented, supposedly to save his son’s life from the genetic disease they both shared (but how a flying battle suit with pumpkin bombs is supposed to accomplish this feat is never explained);

(d) Oscorp genetic research on spiders and spider venom (which created Spider-Man in the previous film and which promises to potentially cure Harry Osborne in this one);

(e) Max Dillon’s transformation into Electro (yes, he works for Oscorp and designed the entire power grid of New York City, but he is treated like a lowly flunky at the corporation), care of genetically altered electric eels and a precipitating electrical accident at the Oscorp plant; and

(f) sneak peeks at Oscorp battle suits for the Rhino and Dr. Octopus and possibly other members of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery (the little snippet passed by too fast for me to mentally process all three or four battle suits shown).

So everything is Oscorp, Oscorp, Oscorp. It appears to be, not only the only evil corporation in New York City, but the only corporation, period. Even Gwen Stacey works for Oscorp!

Alas, poor Gwen Stacey. I don’t think I’m ruining the story for too many Spider-Man fans by mentioning here that the poor girl does not come to a good end. To ramp up Peter Parker’s sense of guilt at putting Gwen in jeopardy by being her boyfriend, the film includes two or three “hallucinations” by Peter of the dead Captain Stacey, Gwen’s father, who I presume in the first movie of the reboot series told Peter to stay away from Gwen, and was then killed in the line of duty. But the identity of Captain Stacey’s “ghost” is never made clear in the current film; I only figured it out because I’m familiar with the Stan Lee/John Romita, Sr. story in which Captain Stacey died during one of Spider-Man’s battles. It blew right by my kids, and I’m sure it blew right by any audience member who is not a hardcore Spider-Man reader and who did not see the first film in the reboot series.

The screenwriters simply cram too much story into too little movie, even though the movie runs nearly 2.5 hours long. There was enough plot here for two or even three movies. The climactic battle against Electro should have been the final climax of this movie – but two more major superhero-super-villain fights are yet to come! In addition to the film’s crescendo of tragedy! Also, Electro, in my humble opinion, is simply portrayed as being far too powerful, way out of Spider-Man’s league. The feats he was able to accomplish in this movie would have made him a worthy foe for the Mighty Thor, who is at least ten times as capable and powerful as Spider-Man. I understand the writer’s temptation to make the hero’s predicament dire, but in this case they overshot the mark, making Spider-Man’s eventual triumph over Electro seem downright unbelievable (yes, I know it is a superhero movie… but it took the entire Avengers team to beat Loki and his minions in The Avengers, and Electro was portrayed as a Loki-class villain in this film, which he never was in the classic Spider-Man comics).

With all the above in mind, I can’t give this picture more than 2 stars out of 5 (and I gave an extra half a star for the very beginning and very end of the movie, both little bits having been enjoyable and in the spirit of Spider-Man). I’m afraid I won’t be taking my kids to see the next one in this series, if I can at all avoid it.

Cover for Hellfire and Damnation

Hellfire and Damnation - High Resolution

This is the cover for my upcoming book, Hellfire and Damnation: the August Micholson Chronicles, Book 2, coming out from MonstraCity Press in August, 2014. And here is the “teaser” for that book:

The second book in the thrilling Civil War steampunk supernatural suspense series begun with Fire on Iron. In this installment in the series, August Micholson must clear his name — he is accused of being a traitor to the Union and a sabateur and faces a court martial. He escapes his prison in an observation balloon, but then he is faced with monumental twin challenges — restoring the mental health of his “madness plague”-striken wife Elizabeth, and figuring out a way to halt General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania!
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Here’s a gallery of the work that James of the Humble Nations: the Book Covers, Musings, & Fiction of ‘Cheap Literature’ Smith’ has done for me thus far:

James has hundreds and hundreds of pre-made covers available for writers to purchase for $35 apiece, and he often offers specials on them. If none of his pre-made covers work for you, he also does what he calls “Commission Rapide,” which is where you pick out a few images from ShutterStock and give him your title and instructions, and “Full Commission,” where you let him do all the work and he presents you with three different alternatives. He is very easy to work with and very friendly, and his prices are some of the best out there. As you can see from the gallery above, the quality of his work is quite high (the book covers are all “Commissions Rapide,” and the logo was a complete original that he put together for Dara and me for MonstraCity Press). He does ebook covers and for a small additional charge turns an ebook cover into a full, wrap-around cover for a CreateSpace or Lightning Source/IngramSpark trade paperback. I highly recommend him!

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